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From breaking barriers to baring all in a new memoir.
Ashley Graham, who made history as the first plus-size cover star of Sports Illustrated‘s swimsuit issue in 2016 and this year in Vogue, is making waves yet again.
The 29-year-old Nebraska native gets candid in her memoir A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty & Power Really Look Like. The Hollywood Reporter breaks down 10 revelations in her tell-all, which makes its debut on Monday.
1. She was molested at age 10.
Graham opens up about developing breasts in fourth grade, and how that encouraged inappropriate, adult onlookers. At just 10 years old, an 18-year-old family friend took her hand, placed it on his erection and told her, “That’s what you did to me.”
By the time she was 14, men her father’s age were making sexual advances toward her. The encounters became so concerning, her mother paid Graham’s sisters (about four and five years younger) to shout, “Mom! Mom!” when older men made moves on the young model.
2. Her self-proclaimed “daddy issues” affected her sexual health and esteem.
Looking back at these dangerous flirtations, Graham reflects on her unstable relationship with her father. “When I had just turned 12, I loved to flirt and be flirted with,” she writes. “It didn’t matter how inappropriate, unsolicited or confusing it was — any male attention was good attention as far as I was concerned … I know now, this is because I never got the love and attention I needed from my dad.”
Propositions from men early in life influenced her sexual activities at age 17 as an up-and-coming model in Manhattan: “There was a rhythm — a guy would take me out; we would have sex the next time we saw each other; and then I wouldn’t hear from him ever again. … That was the moment, when I was the sole focus of a man’s attention, when I was happiest. And if it meant I had to be slutty in the eyes of some, so what?”
3. Graham is a survivor of domestic abuse.
After two years of living in New York, and sacrificing “a real relationship” for “that immediate hit of adoration through sex,” at 19 she met a man named Carlos. The Dominican web designer was prone to states of drunken rage, in which he would violently assault her, chase her with a butcher knife or throw a glass bottle at her. Graham hid the abusive relationship from friends for an entire year, before finally walking away. “Just because I’m pretty doesn’t mean I’m not insecure,” she writes. “I slept around and stayed in an abusive relationship for affection and validation, because I thought I was too fat to find anything better.”
4. She abstained from sex with her husband until they tied the knot.
A silver lining in her dating history came when she met her husband-to-be Justin Ervin at church. The two chose to abstain from having sex until their wedding day. “I went from one extreme to the other,” Graham explains.
5. Graham reveals her weight and measurements.
The model discloses that her hips range from 46 to 48 inches, her waist fluctuates between 29 and 32 inches and her bra size has remained consistent at 36DDD.
While Graham chooses not to own a scale in her apartment and only keeps track of her weight at the doctor’s office, she knows she was at her heaviest when she got married (215 pounds, size 16-18) and at her skinniest as a 12-year-old, up-and-coming model (150 pounds, size 12). When she moved to New York at 17, she went from a size 14 to 18 in about a year.
6. She has a history of drug use.
Graham details that at age 17, she and her roommate were regulars on the New York City party scene. They flashed their breasts to bouncers to get into clubs and experimented with cocaine and ecstasy. One night, she blacked out, fell on the sidewalk and was transported in an ambulance to a hospital for an alcohol overdose.
7. Graham slipped financially and lost six figures in one year.
The model was making $100,000 at 17, but blew through it within a year on everything from $2,500 bar tabs to retail therapy. The “real shock” came when it was time to do her taxes, and there were insufficient funds in her account. Luckily, she scraped just enough together to pay her tax bill, thanks to a “reserve fund” at her modeling agency.
8. She grew up being bullied.
Girls in school called her “thunder thighs,” “cottage cheese thighs” and taunted, “Beep, beep, beep. Wide load coming through.” The worst comment came from her first boyfriend at age 16. He ended their relationship by saying, “I have to break up with you because you won’t have sex with me. And I’m afraid you’re going to be as fat as my mom.”
9. Graham credits some of her success to being “racially ambiguous.”
She states her “combination of attributes” has helped her make a dent in the industry: “For plus-size girls — the flat stomach is key. Because I had a flat stomach, a lot of people wanted me for lingerie and swimwear shoots. And because my face is approachable, I appear racially ambiguous, my body is proportionate, and I can fit into sample sizes, which for the plus-size industry are 12, 14 and 16.”
10. She owes “a special debt of gratitude toward women of color.”
Graham writes in her final chapter, “For many black and brown people, curves have long been desirable. … One of the aspects of our country’s shameful history of racial injustice is that women of color have had their natural bodies stigmatized as overtly sexual or shunned as ugly because they don’t fit into a traditional European standard of beauty. I’m fully aware that I’m being praised for something a lot of women of color have been put down for, simply because I’m white. I hope that my work will help break down all the barriers we put up around other people — whether it’s because of their body type, skin color or any other external trait.”
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